“Evolution gives us the true account of our origins, replacing the myths that satisfied us for thousands of years. Some find this deeply frightening, others ineffably thrilling… But it is more than just a good theory, or even a beautiful one. It also happens to be true.” These are just two statements from the introduction of Dr. Jerry Coyne‘s book, Why Evolution Is True. If the title of the book wasn’t clear enough, the introduction makes his position even clearer. In fact, his book is also an attack against creationism and anyone who believes that it should be taught in schools along with evolution. Coyne says, “Why teach a discredited, religiously based theory, even one widely believed, alongside a theory so obviously true?” So, is creationism discredited? Can it stand up against a theory so obviously true like evolution?
When I teach on evolution, I always make sure to emphasize the three Columbo questions from Greg Koukl‘s book, Tactics. It is always good to respond with questions instead of statements if someone comes up to you and says, “Evolution is a fact. Do you believe in it?” After this question you could say…
- What do you mean by evolution? Are they defending change over time, micro-evolution, or Darwinian evolution (macro-evolution)? Make sure you are both discussing the same definition of evolution.
- How did they come to that conclusion? What evidence do they have to support their view of evolution?
- Have you considered…? This is when we can answer their question by presenting another option that agrees with the evidence. The goal is to get them to think rather than simply stating facts that can be dismissed.
When I go through these questions with students, especially the second question, they almost always respond by saying that fossils are evidence for evolution. What is the evidence for evolution in the fossil record? This is the first question Dr. Coyne addresses in his book after defining evolution in the first chapter, and for this reason, it will be the first topic we discuss. Dr. Coyne says,
There are several types [of evidence]. First, the big evolutionary picture: a scan through the entire sequence of rock strata should show early life to be quite simple, with more complex species appearing only after some time. Moreover, the youngest fossils we find should be those that are most similar to living species (Why Evolution Is True, p. 25).
Second, when we find transitional forms, they occur in the fossil record precisely where they should (p. 53).
Finally, evolutionary change, even of a major sort, nearly always involves remodeling the old into the new (p. 54).
Dr. Coyne gives many examples to support his first piece of evidence that species move from simple to complex. He covers fossilized evolution and speciation, the “missing links,” evolution of fish to amphibians, the origin of birds, and the evolution of whales. Each example starts with an ancient species and shows a gradual evolution to what we have today. And when you begin to be overwhelmed by the amount of evidence, Coyne says, “If at this point you’re feeling overwhelmed with fossils, be consoled that I’ve omitted hundred of others that also show evolution” (p. 51). With hundreds examples proving evolution to be a fact, why am I not an evolutionist?
Why I’m not convinced
Dr. Coyne has given many examples of similar fossils that appear to be evolving slowly, but this doesn’t frighten me. Showing similar fossils moving from simple to complex does not prove that evolution is true. Within an atheistic or naturalistic framework I can see why this makes sense. It seems to line up so perfectly and is the only option. However, naturalism isn’t the only framework in which to understand the evidence. The Christian worldview presents another possibility; God created each of those species. Even Dr. Coyne admits that, “It is easier to document evolution in the fossil record than to understand what caused it” (p. 31). We see fossils that appear to be so similar, but we cannot know, from fossils alone, what caused them to be so similar. This still leaves two options on the table.
Have you considered that the fossil record could be the result of a common creator?
Fossils are always used to prove evolution, but couldn’t they be explained by both a common creator or a common ancestor? Dr. Coyne gives two answers as to why the common creator option doesn’t make sense. First, “No theory of special creation, or any theory other than evolution, can explain these patterns” (p. 29). This really confused me, and I was upset to see that this statement came without explanation at the end of the section. Why can’t special creation account for the simple to complex patterns we see? Why couldn’t God create different kinds of animals with similar body forms? If natural selection acting on random genetic mutations (a mindless process), can produce those results, why couldn’t an intelligent creator?
Second, Dr. Coyne says, “There is no reason why a celestial designer, fashioning organisms from scratch like an architect designs buildings, should make new species by remodeling the features of existing ones. Each species could be constructed from the ground up” (p. 54). It is true that God could construct each species from the ground up, but why would he have to do that? Genesis 1:25-26 tells us that God made the beasts of the earth, and then made man in His image. The Hebrew word meaning “to make” in these verses can describe the creation of a new form from preexisting materials. This is confirmed in that Genesis 2:7 tells us, “God formed the man of dust from the ground.” So, even though God could have created each animal kind completely different, it doesn’t appear that He did it this way. Similar bone structures and DNA show that God used similar “blueprints” when creating animals and humans in their present form. Evolution isn’t the only explanation for similar structures.
Special creation does explain the patterns we see in the fossil record. It explains the “transitional fossils,” the “missing links,” and the origin of life. Therefore, I am convinced that fossils don’t only point to evolution but can also be explained by creation. The creation account in Genesis 1-2 should not be thrown out as a religiously based and discredited theory.
What do you think? Why do you hold to creation or evolution? Leave your comments below and check back later as we dive into other issues on this topic!
December 19, 2017 at 9:10 am
Here’s the problem with special creation (SC): it can be used to explain anything. No matter what the physical evidence shows, the creationist can respond “God is omnipotent and could’ve made it that way.” So, by explaining everything, it explains nothing.
In fact, given the regularlity of the universe, the only possiblity that allows SC to make sense as an explanation would be if the biological evidence was irregular, random or unpredictable (“Rabbits in the pre-Cambrian.”) and not regular and progressive.
In science, “explanatory power” refers to the ability of a theory to accurately predict answers. Since you claim you see “the explanatory power of special creation”, I’d like to know exactly what this consists of. What answers has SC successfully predicted?
Has anyone predicted fossil finds based on SC, like tiktaalik (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiktaalik)? Has anyone explained DNA features using SC, like chromosome 2 (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/07/3/l_073_47.html)? Is SC used to make better, more effective flu vaccines? (https://www.livescience.com/16433-everyday-evolution-flu-shots.html)
If SC has EVER successfully predicted an answer to any biological question, I like seriously like to know about it. You CANNOT claim scientific explanatory power for SC until such time as predictions are made and confirmed.
P.S. How can it be that “the creation account in Genesis 1-2 is the best explanation for the origin of life” when the account in Genesis 1 doesn’t even agree with the account in Genesis 2?
December 19, 2017 at 10:28 am
Thanks for your comment Chip. I understand that this isn’t a fully comprehensive look at the issues. That cannot be done in 1,000 words. I will be continuing this with future blog posts and addressing some of your questions, but I will attempt to answer some quickly.
What answers has SC successfully predicted?
1) Live appeared early in earth’s history. Animals came before humans. The timeline of appearances with the formation of the earth matches scientific knowledge.
2) Life arose quickly. Given the creation model, we should expect to see what we found with the Cambrian explosion. Most major phyla appear in the fossil record in a very short time geologically speaking.
3) Life is complex from its earliest stages. The Cambrian explosion shows that the earliest fossils were very complex and slowly changed after that point.
4) Life came from non-living matter. Science shows that living organisms have not always existed. This is consistent with the biblical model.
Here are just four that come to mind now. I’ll take some time to research this further and create a more comprehensive list, but I think this begins to answer your request for successful predictions. Also, remember that the Bible was written thousands of years before science, and so this isn’t an attempt to change the Bible to match science.
Second, the belief that Genesis 1 and 2 don’t agree makes sense with a surface level understanding of the text. A closer look at the text shows this to be false. I will be writing a blog later to show that they in fact are not contradictory.
December 19, 2017 at 11:51 am
What you have listed are all observations or premises of SC, not predictions.
1) “Life appeared early in earth’s history.” Yeah. So…? This should be followed with “Therefore we would expect…” followed by an experiment to find out if the prediction is true. (Also, creation timelines CANNOT match since you haven’t decided which timeline, Gen 1 or 2, is the correct one. And, by the way… humans ARE animals.)
2) “Life arose quickly.” An observation that’s not even correct. Given the creation model, we would expect to see absolutely nothing, then everything. In reality, life developed very slowly for a long time, then the Cambrian explosion happened. (It’s called an “explosion” to highlight the quick development relative to the rest of evolutionary history which was SLOW and plodding.)
3) “Life is complex from its earliest stages.” Another incorrect observation. Since we’re talking Cambrian explosion, would you like to compare the complexity of life forms before and after this event? But what you probably mean is that you don’t know exactly what life (or proto-life) looked like early on because life that far back didn’t and couldn’t leave fossils or other evidence for us to find. So, the earliest life we know of is still complex in the sense that we haven’t yet figured it all out and can’t replicate it. But that doesn’t mean multi-cell animals aren’t “more complex” than single-cell animals.
4) “Life came from non-living matter.” This is a premise of SC and of abiogenesis (unproven), but again… “Therefore…”? What? Where’s the prediction?
Let me elaborate just a little on tiktaalik to illustrate the difference.
We had certain fossils that we thought were related but had substantial morphological differences and had a big time gap inbetween. So someone said, “Look, if these are truly related, evolution would say that we should be able to find a fossil with these physical features and at this certain level in the geological column.”
Then they pick a place with a high likelihood of that part of the column exposed. They go and poke around and dig for a few seasons, and lo and behold, they find exactly what they were looking for.
So, to line it out…
1) Observation – We have disparate fossils that we suspect are related through evolution.
2) Hypothesis (or prediction) based on evolution – An ‘inbetween’ fossil should exist in a certain place.
3) Experiment – Let’s try to find one in that place.
4) Result – Fossil meeting the criteria was found.
5) Conclusion – The two original fossils are related and evolution is supported by another data point.
I don’t need a comprehensive list. I need one, single, clear example of SC premises that take a observation, make a prediction, run an experiment, and reach a positive conclusion (ideally, written in the form I wrote above). If you can’t provide one, then you need to stop implying that SC meets scientific standards.
Genesis 1 and 2 are clearly written by different people and contain descriptions that are factually contradictory. No matter how closely you look, it is impossible for both Gen 1 AND Gen 2 to be literally true.
December 19, 2017 at 1:24 pm
Chip, it looks like you are simply trying to find points of disagreement rather than understanding. Rather than asking for my explanation of Genesis 1 and 2 and why I don’t think it is contradictory, you instead just say it is wrong. I’m trying to be honest and considerate of your position as we think through the issues, and I would ask you to do the same.
So, to line it out…
1) Observation – Scripture tells us that sea creatures were created first. Beasts of the field came next and then intelligent human beings came last.
2) Hypothesis – based on this information, we should see the same timeline when studying fossils and other evidence.
3) Experiment – We go out and find fossils of early animals. We look at DNA and trace ancestry thought it.
4) Results – Early animal and dinosaur fossils date much earlier than the earliest human beings. Sea creatures, as explained by Coyne as well, came before land mammals.
5) Conclusion – The timeline given for creation in Genesis 1 is confirmed by scientific data.
If you are curious, I will post reasons why Genesis 1 and 2 are not contradictory at a later date.
December 19, 2017 at 1:26 pm
If you would like more details and are interested in a deeper understanding of the Christian perspective, I would recommend this book. It presents a testable model for creation. https://www.amazon.com/More-Than-Theory-Revealing-Testable/dp/0801014425/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1513718693&sr=8-2&keywords=more+than+a+theory
December 19, 2017 at 3:42 pm
I would have asked more about your Gen 1/2 apologetic but you said “I will be writing a blog later to show that they in fact are not contradictory.” So I took you at your word and only responded with the observation that they are factually contradictory, expecting to see your explanation later.
Re: trying to find disagreements… Hah! I’d say I don’t have to try. You’re serving up disagreements between you and science. 🙂
i) Your description seems to be a post-hoc rationalization rather than someone sitting down prior to modern dating methods for fossils and saying “If we could only find physical evidence for when different animals came into being, then we could prove (one of) the biblical creation timelines.” In other words, do you have evidence that #2 was explicitly suggested BEFORE we had even rudimentary time frames for fossils?
ii) Your description suggests that you accept modern datings methods. True? (Look! I’m asking questions. 🙂
iii) Your description suggests that you accept the relationships between animals (extant and extinct) that we have figured out from DNA. True?
iv) Just an observation that with this result, you’re committing to the Gen 1 timeline making the (surface level) Gen 2 timeline incorrect.
v) Related to (i), the tiktaalik work is peer-reviewed and published (http://www.pnas.org/content/111/3/893.full?sid=e009c9b8-4430-4c7d-b158-d89ecb9d707e). Any chance your example shares this kind of confirmation?
I gotta say, your description is a nice effort. But it is almost certainly post-hoc.
Re: the book you suggested, I’ll take a look. (How could I not? You’re reading “Why Evolution is True?”) But I am familiar with Ross.
December 19, 2017 at 5:25 pm
I apologize for reading too much into your last comment. As far as being post-hoc, I do not see your argument here. The Bible lays out a clear timeline for when things happened. As we look at fossil records they will either confirm or deny what was said thousands of years ago in Scripture. This is what the document says, and if true, we should have evidence to support it. #2 was suggested thousands of years ago when the Bible was written and said to have happened in that way. Correct me if I am wrong, but post-hoc is when you see the evidence and then make your prediction. In my case, the prediction or statement of how things happened was made thousands of years before we knew anything about the evidence.
2) I do hold to an old earth and generally accept modern dating methods.
3) I recognize that there is similarities in the DNA of living things. However, I was referring to our ability to track human DNA back to an approximate start to the human race.
4) I am basing my timeline on Genesis 1.
5) I do accept peer-reviewed work because I am not changing what we know about the fossil record. As I said, I agree with much of what modern science has concluded on the dating of fossils.
I appreciate the push back. I think this type of “peer review” is necessary to keep us honest. I would love to hear your thoughts on Ross’ book as I post my thoughts on Coyne’s book.
December 20, 2017 at 11:55 am
Hey Chip! I have been researching the tiktaalik fossil today and found this. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on it. https://www.nature.com/articles/463040a
December 19, 2017 at 5:12 pm
Fascinating post, Ryan! Thank you so much. Interesting discussion in the comments, too. I would just like to ask you (and any of your readers) for recommendations concerning the best books that discuss the Evolution / Creation debate? I know you linked to the Hugh Ross book – could you recommend any others? Thank you! Steven
December 19, 2017 at 5:36 pm
Thanks for the comment! So far I have read “Intelligent Design” by Dembski and McDowell, “The Language of God” by Francis Collins, “More Than a Theory” by Ross, “Icons of Evolution” by Wells, “Origins” by Haarsma, “Science and Faith” by C. John Collins, and now “Why Evolution Is True” by Coyne. I have appreciated hearing about the debate from different perspectives. “The Language of God” presents theistic evolution which was different from the others. I have many more on my list but haven’t had a chance to get to them yet.
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December 19, 2017 at 6:57 pm
Great, thanks Ryan! Lots to check out here. Will see what’s available on Amazon. God bless.
December 19, 2017 at 7:49 pm
I wish I could help more, but I read some of those a while ago and don’t remember well enough to give a good description. I just remember learning a lot from each one.
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December 20, 2017 at 7:06 pm
One would do well to read Jonathan Weiner’s Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time, and the logical follow up, Forty Years of Evolution, by Peter and Rosemary Grant.
You can probably find a copy of the high school and college biology textbook co-authored by Ken Miller at a Half Price Books or other used book store, for a song. It will give the basic biology in evolution, why and how evolution theory works — and it’s from the perspective of a lifelong Christian. It’s a useful book to have on hand, just to establish a baseline of what scientists actually argue, and from what evidence.
December 20, 2017 at 2:15 pm
Ryan I really appreciate your gentle and patient approach in responding to critical comments. Keep it up!
December 20, 2017 at 2:18 pm
Thanks! Always trying to learn and understand different perspectives.
December 20, 2017 at 4:33 pm
Might I suggest Ultimate Proof by Jason Lisle to give another view?
I’ve read Coyne’s book as an atheist friend recommended it to me as a balanced and objective book. I found his conclusions to be pretty dismissive and arrogant. But Origins is a very fun field to study and there are many great resources.
December 20, 2017 at 5:09 pm
Thanks for the recommendation Andrea!
December 20, 2017 at 6:55 pm
A scientist would say, no, no one believes in evolution. It requires no faith. The evidence and the facts describe it. No faith required.
See for example: https://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/why-no-one-believes-in-evolution-why-faith-in-creationism-isnt-christian-doctrine-and-why-we-know-noahs-flood-is-false/
December 21, 2017 at 5:39 am
“Dr. Coyne says, “There is no reason why a celestial designer… should make new species by remodeling the features of existing ones. Each species could be constructed from the ground up” (p. 54)” Actually, there is at least one: so that Dr. Coyne could have a job. The presence of patterns in nature makes science possible. Dr. Coyne should be thankful God created the world the way he did rather than a disjointed mess that defies study.
December 21, 2017 at 9:25 am
I’ll start by saying that I like the “push back” as well. If I’m wrong, I truly would like to know. I appreciate your efforts.
You said: “[P]ost-hoc is when you see the evidence and then make your prediction. In my case, the prediction or statement of how things happened was made thousands of years before we knew anything about the evidence.”
But the “prediction” has glaring problems. It is only vaguely correct with respect to the order of appearance in Gen 1. And it conflicts with the order of appearance in Gen 2. This is just like a psychic doing cold readings. “I’m sensing you have a brother or some sibling or really close friend who…” When you have multiple predictions, then you can choose which one works and claim success. But it doesn’t work that way in science.
Further, the literal time line is wrong. You have disclaimed this so I’m not putting this on you. But then you seem to be saying Gen 1 accurately predicts order of appearance but is figurative with respect to the “days”.
You choose the Gen 1 timeline over the Gen 2 timeline because Gen 1 fits the evidence. But within Gen 1 you choose billions of years over days because “days” doesn’t fit with the evidence. I’m glad you’re accepting the evidence we have but if this isn’t post-hoc reasoning to justify the Bible, I don’t know what is. Where did anyone ever say PRIOR to dating methods, fossil evidence and DNA “Gen 1 is correct with respect to order but not timing. And Gen 2 is right out.”?
Finally, as a side note, the “prediction” references exactly zero of the 95%+ animals that were unknown at the time it was written because they were extinct or simply on the other side of the planet. Odd that God would create many significant animals, inspire a writer to record this “prediction” but leave out something that would make divine inspiration obvious like a clear description of something no one had ever seen, like a T-rex or a penguin.
Regarding the Nature article…
I don’t have any issue with the article. I admit I don’t entirely follow it because I don’t have the necessary background. It appears there are questions about the timing and order of the development of tetrapods. As far as I can tell, they’re just saying this is an open question among evolutionary biologists. And this applies not only to tetrapods but other organisms as well.
If you are suggesting that evolution may be fundamentally wrong because of “holes” in our understanding of the specifics or because we got some of the specifics wrong and are having to revise them, then I reject this. The overarching claim, that the diversity of life is a result of random mutation and natural selection over billions of years, continues to be affirmed by the evidence.
December 28, 2017 at 11:58 am
If you think I am taking some things literally and other figuratively, I would encourage you to study the Old Earth position. This is not what is happening.
I find it interesting that Coyne uses this fossil as proof, and then you sent me multiple peer-reviewed journals about the tiktaalik fossil as well. You then said, “Any chance your example shares this kind of confirmation?” Then you admit when presented with counter evidence that you were aware of this all the time and that there are questions!
I’m not using this to say that evolution is false. I’m just pointing out that evolutionists use evidence as “proof” even after they are aware that it has been debunked. You aren’t the only person to use this with me, and so it seems to be a common theme.
It’s also interesting that another person tried to twist it back to me as well like I was using that to prove evolution is false.
January 2, 2018 at 11:18 am
Here is my response to your claim that Genesis 1 and 2 are contradictory. https://coffeehousequestions.com/2018/01/02/are-genesis-1-and-2-contradictory-creation-accounts/
February 23, 2018 at 4:48 am
Good thoughts and presentations Ryan. I’ve studied, thought and written much over the years on this topic. My thinking has, for the most part, settled in on evidence that is readily available to the ordinary man/woman on the street rather than the intricacies requiring advanced degrees. Take a look at one of my recent posts The “Not So Intelligent Designer” at https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/13016954/posts/10226
February 23, 2018 at 5:39 am
Thanks! I’ll take a look at it.
May 13, 2019 at 7:08 pm
Using logic to argue faith is illogical.
…and it seems like a desperate attempt to justify one’s self-delusion.
May 13, 2019 at 7:46 pm
Can you please explain? Why is it illogical to use logic to argue for faith?
May 29, 2022 at 9:15 am
Thanks greeat post
June 19, 2022 at 1:18 pm